More than 500 species of birds migrate in Asia Through various forests and wetlands along a number of migratory routes on the East Asian Flyway stretching from the tip of Russia to Indonesia and beyond, this is the richest region in the world for diversity of migratory species. While scientists are increasingly aware of the steep declines and threats faced by the continent’s waders, far less is known about the condition of the migratory birds that live on or over land – a group that includes nearly 400 species.
A new study by an international team of conservationists and researchers in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution sheds new light on the conservation status of this group of birds and provides vital information on how new technologies have improved our understanding of the migration of many species. The researchers found widespread evidence of population decline in many of Asia’s migratory birds, with some of the sharpest declines reported in blackbirds, and raised concerns about how the lack of information on population trends for many species has hampered conservation efforts.
Hunting is one of the most worrying threats affecting many migratory birds in Asia. Species like the yellow-breasted bunting Emberiza aureola (critically endangered) have recently suffered catastrophic population decline. In many parts of Asia, very large numbers of other migratory birds are also captured from the wild with fog nets and then sold to restaurants and other illegal traders.
“We found more migratory species in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia than we expected. With deforestation and industrial-scale agriculture rapidly changing habitats in this part of the world, many species are likely to be in trouble, although data are currently limited, “said Ding Li Yong, the study’s lead author and regional coordinator for the Protecting migratory species at BirdLife International.
“We now have evidence that at least 180 species of Asia’s migratory birds are being caught for food, the caged bird trade, or other uses. Much of it is illegal. This is probably the main reason why previously common species have declined so sharply in the last ten years, ”explained Wieland Heim, co-author and ornithologist at the University of Münster, who studies migratory species in Russia.
On the positive side, the latest research tools are revolutionizing the way scientists study land bird migration in Asia in ways that were not possible a decade ago. Some of these new technologies include tiny devices known as light level geolocalizers that are attached to the bodies of small birds to track their transcontinental flights.
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Chang-Yong Choi, co-author and ecologist who studies migratory birds at Seoul National University in South Korea, said, “Thanks to advanced animal tracking technologies, we have learned a lot more about which places and habitats birds visit during their migration and for how long . This has helped us to visualize the migratory routes between Northeast and Southeast Asia and thus provide important information for better protection of our migratory birds and their habitats. “
Philip Round, co-author and one of the region’s leading experts on migratory birds, agreed, saying, “The ecology of many East Asian migratory birds is still little understood, and even basic migratory ringing studies can help us learn a lot about theirs annual cycles and requirements. “